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One of 20 garden plots at the Leeds Pond Preserve.

"It's the most positive thing in my life," said Cristal McNally, referring to her plot in the Leeds Pond Preserve community garden. "There's not a day I don't visit and work there unless the weather is awful." Thirty other individuals who maintain their 20 separate plots share these same feelings. "The garden is a treasure - peaceful, a way to be with nature, while growing healthy food and getting exercise in a very productive way. We have loved this special place for over 20 years," said Duncan Whiteside. Other pluses are the social relationships that have sprung up among this elderly group and the delicious produce and bright flowers they can gather. McNally also distributes vegetables to her older neighbors in Hadley House on Main Street. On Sept. 29 a harvest party will be held at that Leeds Pond Preserve to celebrate the gardening community.

However, speaking for Nassau County, the owner of the preserve, Deputy Parks Commissioner Tracy Kay, told the gardeners' representatives during an Aug. 1 meeting that they cannot pass on their plots to their family members, and no new members will be allowed to join this garden community of 28 years. They may stay until they die because the gardens have existed for such a long time. "Ultimately this will mean that the gardens are going to be phased out over time which is sad news," said McNally. There is no provision for community gardens in a nature preserve. Twenty-eight years ago the gardens were established as a memorial to Peter F. Rickert, for his 44 years of devoted service to nature and the great outdoors.

Up until 2005 when Stanley Cutler was the gardeners' representative, new members were allowed. But since Cutler's move to Florida, the Science Museum Director John Loret said he has been uncomfortable with the gardeners' presence and the gardens also interfere with some of his plans. Loret has asked for new regulations to be enforced. For example, he wants fences removed because he feels they are flimsily built and a safety hazard. The county representatives have agreed with this. Loret also wants to move some of the plots to other areas next year to allow the parking lot to be enlarged. Some of the gardeners affected are unhappy about this because they have spent much time and effort in enriching the soil. Also some vegetables such as asparagus take three years to produce and can't be moved if you want a crop.

Loret would like to develop a hydroponics solar-powered greenhouse. Aqua-culture is the future food source for the planet, he said. He does not see the gardens as part of his educational mission at the Science Museum. However, McNally feels "organic gardening is the future" and the garden plots should be an educational venue.


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